Among the treasures I keep on my desk is a little antique iron. It belonged to my grandmother. Known as a “flat” or “sad” iron, which is an old word for “heavy”, my little iron has a very distinct #2 on its back. After a little research, I learned that iron manufacturers numbered their products by size. The larger the iron, the larger the number. A #2 iron is on the small side. By the time this little iron was heating up on the stove, all the necessary lead-up work – the sewing (if it was a new garment), the washing, and the overall pressing – would have been completed. Only the last dainty details would have remained such as the delicate pressing of the lace on a collar or the little pleats on a shirt front.
Though in real life I despise ironing, I find this little iron inspiring. To the writer in me, it signifies joy. It’s a reminder that after weeks of laboring and revising, there comes a point where my story is almost finished! The overall story is well-stitched and the time has come to delicately and attentively press through each sentence, making sure that every last comma and verb agreement are correct.
At what stage of the writing process do you find yourself today? Are you in the final, exhilerating round of pressing out every last comma, or are you still stitching away? Either way, I hope that my little iron encourages you to press on! Happy ironing, er writing, all!
Note: With just a few weeks of summer left, I have decided to take a little holiday from blogging so I can focus on family. I will be back on August 28 with brand new posts. In the meantime, I’ll be posting a few favorite oldies, like this one from spring 2015.
Recently, prompted by a very whiffy truck ahead of us, my daughter and I passed a most enjoyable half-hour brainstorming all the smells we love and hate. Some we agreed upon. Others we did not. Still, we both agreed that smells add richness to life.
The lists we compiled serve as fragrant and stinky reminders that kids LOVE the idea of SMELLINESS and that, as a picture book author, I need to remember my readers noses. Take a whiff (rather than a peek) at our lists below. What would you add?
Our List of FAVORITE SMELLS… coffee percolating, puppy ears, strawberries, asphalt after a summer rain, salty sea air, damp earth, pizza in the oven, a clean baby, skunk (faint), lilacs in bloom, a crackling fire, candle smoke, newly mown grass, bubble gum, spring, balsam needles, hamburgers on the grill, freshly laundered sheets, pumpkin pie, impending snow, herbs snipped from the garden, freshly sharpened pencils, old books, freshly polished wood, crayons, bacon sizzling, rubber boots, spent matches, peppermints, perfume, vanilla, honeysuckle, clover, brownies baking, mountain air, waxed hallways, leather, curry, onions sautéing, cedar chests, roses, hay, apple pie in the oven, soup simmering, new sneakers.
Our List of STINKY SMELLS… hot tar, mucky marshes, skunk (strong), cigar smoke, bus fumes, sour wash clothes, new mulch, dirty diapers, rotten eggs, doggy doo, butt snorts (as we call them in our family), clammy feet, stinky socks, wet wool, moldy cheese, manure, chicken coops, summer garbage cans, nail polish, sweaty armpits, old melon rind, gym lockers, dank cellars
A hint of odor, skillfully incorporated, can be a powerful addition a story. Indeed, I repeatedly hear from parents everywhere that their kids favorite spread of all in GOODNIGHT, ARK is the one in which two creatures, who shall remain nameless, make a BIG stink!
What whiffy addition will you add to your WIP this week?
Note: With just a few weeks of summer left, I have decided to take a little holiday from blogging so I can focus on family. I will be back on August 28 with brand new posts. In the meantime, I’ll be posting a few favorite oldies, like this one from spring 2016.
I grew up in a family of readers. Indeed, some of my earliest memories include sitting in my mother’s lap while she read to me from A.A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young. I loved the rhythmic rhyming sound of Milne’s poems and memorized several, quite by accident, because I asked my mother to read them to me so often. I’ve carried the rhyming beat of those poems with me ever since.
As soon as could hold a pencil and spell (sort of), I started writing poetry on my own. How do I know this? I know because my parents sent me a box full of papers and notebooks from my childhood including limericks, riddles, and silly rhyming snippets – all proof that I’ve loved playing with language for a very long time.
As an adult, I have continued to foster that love by educating myself on the intricacies of meter and rhyme, by reading the best children’s poetry out there, and by honing my own skills by writing, writing, writing!
Poetry, especially rhyming poetry, is harder than it might first appear because it’s not just about good rhyme. It’s also about rhythm and keeping a consistent rhythm throughout a piece.
Do you have an inner poet somewhere deep inside, too? Here are tips to help you find him/her:
1. Write from the heart. Have an idea for a poem? At this early point, don’t worry about perfecting the rhyme or meter. Simply enjoy the process of writing and see where your pen and imagination take you. Dabble with rhyme and meter, if you feel so inclined, but it’s better to have fresh ideas than tight, strained stanzas. Once you have written from the heart, then you can go back and creatively work on meter and rhyme.
2. Read, read, read! It will help your inner poet grow if you read poetry. There are many great children’s poets out there. You might enjoy exploring poet Renee LaTulippe’s Big List of Children’s Poets. Her website, No Water River, also includes children’s poets reading their works. This is a great way to hear poems read and to appreciate how seemingly efffortless the final version should sound. I also make a habit of checking out poetry anthologies and collections from the children’s poetry section of my library. I do the same with rhyming picture books. As I read them, I analyse what makes them work and take notes for future reference.
3. Pick a poem to model. This is a great exercise for broadening your poetic skills. I love doing this when I have writer’s block or am between projects. First, I pick a poem that I like. Maybe I’ll pick a limerick one week and something with couplets the next. Once I’ve picked my poem, I dissect it – examining each line, as well as the whole – to see how the poet put it together. I also make guesses as to why the author chose certain wording, or a certain theme. Then I pick a topic and/or theme that is completely different and write my own poem using the form I’ve just studied. I’ve learned A LOT this way! Plus, it’s just plain fun and your inner poet will love it.
4. Invest in several poet-friendly resources. Of course in this day and age, we poets have lots of free poetry- aiding resources at our finger tips. These include on-line rhyming dictionaries such as the one found at RhymeZone. This nifty resource includes not only rhyming options but can also serve as a thesaurus. Most computer dictionaries also have a thesaurus function. However, in my experience, nothing is quite as good as two old-fashioned resources that will forever be my bffs when it comes to writing poetry. The first is Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases. I have still have the 1982 edition I got when I was in junior high! The second, I bought for my inner poet on my birthday in 2008. It’s called The Complete Rhyming Dictionary, Revised. Edited by Clement Wood and revised by Ronald Bogus, it includes not just an exhaustive rhyming dictionary, but The Poet’s Craft Book as well.
5. Finally, remember to HAVE FUN! There is joy in playing with words and it’s a real treat to carve out time to write. So, my last tip is to enjoy the process. I do! Happy writing, all!
Note: With just a few weeks of summer left, I have decided to take a little holiday from blogging so I can focus on family. I will be back on August 28 with brand new posts. In the meantime, I’ll be posting a few favorite oldies, like this one from summer 2016.
This summer I’ve been celebrating the release of brand new kids’ books with special guest posts and author/illustrator interviews. Today, I’m delighted to have debut picture book author Linda Whalen as my guest. Illustrated by Jennifer Morris, Linda’s book LITTLE RED ROLLS AWAY (Sleeping Bear Press) piqued my interest because one of my vivid early memories is of watching an old house being moved in the town my grandparents lived in. The Little Red in Linda’s story is a barn who’s a little scared about moving and all of the unknowns. As a child who moved around a lot, I would definitely have benefitted from a story like this! Here’s the book trailer which gives a wonderful sense of the book:
Linda is here today, not only to celebrate the release of this book, but also to share her thoughts on what it means to be a writer who is in it for the long haul. Her words really resonated with me. I hope they encourage you as well. Take it away, Linda!
In it for the Long Haul
By Linda Whalen
The long haul, sounds kind of scary because it implies patience and endurance. Ugh! Patience is not one of my virtues when it comes to getting published. Writing is a different story. Writers should want, need, love to write. Put the words that float, zoom or just sit in your mind down on paper or on your computer even if you wind up throwing that paper away or hitting delete. Being a writer is forever. Whether you let the words out or not, you will still write them in your mind.
Yes, it can be a long haul to being published. It was for me. It’s not for some. In either case, a writer should write. Otherwise, a writer’s soul withers and gets cranky. My family can always tell when I’m not writing because they will touch my arm and say, “I think you need to go write.” It’s true. If I let a rejection get to me and just stop writing for a while, I’m not as happy as usual. A writer needs to write.
The long haul is sometimes down a nice, even-paved road slowly getting to your destination but no road ever stays the same. Sometimes you hit a pothole or a detour or a sudden summer storm tries to blow you off the road completely. Don’t stop hauling your dream of being published down the road. Continue to write.
Writers are never really alone if you think about it. Every time you write, somewhere out there another writer is struggling just like you to do justice to the words and ideas springing into their thoughts. We look at the same blank pages. Search for the right way to convey our thoughts. Worry about rejection. Hope that someone will understand and love our story. Hunger to see our name follow a book title.
If you are a writer, you are in it for the long haul even if you physically stop writing because there will always be stories lingering in your mind waiting to be told. So tell them. Tell them because they need to be told. Every writer comes with a unique experience and you never know when the story in your mind may be just what someone needs. Being a writer is more than stories, it’s an opportunity to touch the lives of others. That’s a gift that is worth all of the struggle, rejection, and long nights. So enjoy the long haul, see the beauty of writing along the way and become companions with other writers on the road with you whether they are in your rear mirror or up ahead. You travel the road together in it for the long haul.
Linda Whalen was raised in Southern California then married and traveled throughout the United States finally settling in Northern Calif. A city girl who found she loves country life with her husband, family and the creatures playing in the fields around her home. Devoting her life to children she has been a 4-H leader, volunteer teacher at her church, and owner/operator of Whalen’s Country Childcare a licensed facility. When she’s not writing Linda loves to sneak away to her art studio. To learn more, or contact Linda, please visit her website: http://www.lindawhalenauthor.com.
Linda Joy Singleton, author of over 45 books ranging from picture books to young adult, has a new picture book out with little bee books. It’s called A CAT IS BETTER and today, in celebration of its recent release, I am honored to have her as my guest. I know you will be inspired by her reflections on waiting for inspiration. Take it away, Linda!
WHEN INSPIRATION STRIKES
Linda Joy Singleton
Writers are often asked if they wait for inspiration to write a book. My answer used to be, “No way! I sit in my chair and write almost every day, until the book is finished.”
But writing my picture book, A CAT IS BETTER, has changed my answer. I can’t just say, “I’m going to sit down today and write a picture book.” The picture book process doesn’t work that way. I still believe it’s important to write regularly for novels; getting that first draft can be a huge, time-consuming challenge. If you don’t add a few pages regularly, the book may never get finished.
Writing picture books has been a different experience for me. The short format is closer to creating poetry or music, and just can’t be forced. It may sound cliche, but I have to wait to be inspired before I write a picture book.
Usually when an idea does strike, it’s in the middle of the night or when I’m driving. And if I don’t write it down immediately, the idea could vanish like a forgotten dream. Sometimes it feels like the words are a gift to me from the universe, and I’m always grateful (even for the many books I wrote that never sold).
My first picture book, SNOW DOG, SAND DOG, was inspired by a black and white photo. The next, CASH KAT, was triggered by a money game I played with my grandson.
But writing A CAT IS BETTER was a completely different experience. It was the first time that I was able to successfully ask the “universe” for an idea.
I was a speaker at a writing conference, and sitting in on another session. While others were making picture book dummies, a pre-arranged exercise, I had nothing to do. So I told myself that I would write a picture book. “What topic?” I asked myself. “Cats,” came the answer. Because I LOVE cats. And just like that—an opening line jumped into my head. “Congratulations, I’m your new cat. I’m the perfect pet for you. You may take me home now.”
My theory is that my creative brain whirls in the background of my life, but it’s not easy to access the information. But in this amazing moment, my conscious and creative mind connected. I wrote the first draft in one hour. I rewrote it for a few weeks, showed my agent, and after five rewrites for an editor, I had a contract. And A CAT IS BETTER was a June 2017 release from Little Bee Books.
Since that experience, I’ve had more of these conversations with myself. I saw a photo online that made me think, “Someone should write about this.” I kept thinking about the photo, and a title popped into my head. But I couldn’t think of a plot. I mulled this over, frustrated that no ideas happened. But at 4AM one morning, words popped into my head! I got up, typed quickly, writing a rough draft.
I don’t know if this new book will sell, but it was fun to write. Thank heavens for amazing, almost magical moments of inspiration.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Linda Joy Singleton is the author of over 45 MG, YA and picture books. She’s currently working on the 6th mystery in the MG series, CURIOUS CAT SPY CLUB. In 2017, she has two new picture books, A CAT IS BETTER and LUCY LOVES GOOSEY. She lives in the country with a menagerie of animals, including dogs, cats, pigs, horses and peacocks. She offers tips to writers and resources for teachers at www.LindaJoySingleton.com.
I’ve been keeping this to myself for some time now, but the announcement ran in Publishers Weekly today, so I think I can finally let loose my vibrato!
Per their announcement, DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE is “an ode to artistic collaboration, starring an opera-loving mouse who wants to help and the diva who thinks she deserves bigger help than a mouse.” It’s scheduled for publication by Sterling Children’s Books in Spring 2018 and is illustrated by British illustrator Rebecca Gerlings. I’ve already seen sketches and several spreads and I am over the moon with delight! I can’t wait for this book to release!
For the official announcement, press here.
Those of you who have enjoyed participating in Tara Lazar’s STORYSTORM, formerly known as PICTURE BOOK IDEA MONTH, might be encouraged know that this was the very first idea on my 2011 PiBoIdMo list! It took several years and many, many revisions until it was finally ready to submit, but persistence (and patience) paid off!
Happy Thursday all!
A special part of my recent trip to England was spending time with a friend who recently moved to London with her husband and three adorable daughters. My day with Charise began with a reading of “Goodnight Ark” to her girls’ classes at their lovely school in Hampstead, a village of London. That was a wonderful treat in and of itself and I especially enjoyed answering the children’s questions after each reading, asked in charming British accents.
The readings ended at 10:30 and I think Charise’s youngest, who is just three, was a little sad not to get to spend the rest of the day at school with her sisters. It all turned out okay, though, because in the end, since Emaline was with us, it was she who got to show me the snails.
This is how it happened. First, Emaline and her mom gave us a walking tour of Hampstead. As we walked Charise pointed several spots that will be featured in the upcoming film Hampstead starring Diane Keaton, which I now can’t wait to see. After our walk, it was still too early for lunch so we stopped in at their home for a few minutes.
Once home, Emaline took great pleasure in showing us her garden – and that’s where I met the snails. This particular morning there were only two. “Do you think this one’s the other one’s mum?” Emaline asked as we watched them move slowly across a patio stone. “Perhaps,” I answered. “Or maybe they’re friends. Maybe they play together. What do you think?”
Then, in quiet whispers, Emaline and I watched them for the loveliest long time. And, as we crouched there, I thought how good it felt to pause from the busyness of the day to ponder snails – how they might be related, where they might be going and what they might be doing etc.
This adorable interaction got me thinking about life as a writer. I’ve discovered over time that my most satisfying days are those in which, like Emaline, I pause from the hectic pace of it all to ponder snails (or whatever) – in other words, to allow myself to slow down enough to see the world anew.
Heaven knows, the publishing world moves at a snail’s pace, so what’s the rush, really? Especially, when there’s so much pleasure and inspiration to be gained from crouching down and seeing the world – snails and all – from the perspective of a child!
Now, in celebration of three-year-olds, snails and slowing down, I offer you:
FOUR Tips to Help the WRITER in You SLOW DOWN (and See the World Anew)
- SPEND TIME with a CHILD. There’s nothing quite as perspective changing as spending time with a little one. Play a game together. Ask questions. Talk. See the world through their eyes.
- CLEAR the CALENDAR for a morning. Then find a spot, preferably outside, and be still. Listen to the sound of the wind rustling the leaves or the peals of children’s laughter. Quietly follow the trail of a chipmunk. What is he doing? Where is he going? You will be amazed at how alive and fresh everything (and you) will feel! And, if you are anything like me, you will come away with at least a dozen new writing ideas.
- DEDICATE an AFTERNOON to READING PICTURE BOOKS. Settle yourself down in the children’s department of your local library or at your favorite bookstore and READ! Pick old favorites as well as newer titles. Before long, those stories will transport you to the magical world of child-like wonder. Have a notebook handy because you never know what long-forgotten memory your reading will stir.
- Investigate AUTHENTIC CHILDHOOD WRITINGS. These can be your own childhood writings or, if you’re like me, you’ve also saved your children’s writings. I always ask my kids permission to read through their old school journals and story folders, and they always grant it. I’m so happy they do, because those journals, as well as my own childhood scribblings, are precious sources of authentic kid-talk and they always inspire me.
Happy Monday all! And may we each find time to stop and ponder the snails this week.
Nothing made my mother’s nose crinkle more than the smell of a sour washcloth. Her sense of smell was so strong that she claimed she could detect the scent of a sour wash cloth on a man’s face in an elevator. I’m a nose crinkler too, though I confess I’m not quite that discriminating.
Still, she trained me well and I so do my very best to remedy any and all sour wash cloth situations in our family.
The steps are simple and straightforward. First, to prevent a sour situation from the get-go, be sure to thoroughly wring out each wash cloth immediately after using. Second, never put a damp wash cloth in the hamper. Instead, hang it to air day in a spot with plenty of ventilation. Third, if you do discover a sour wash cloth, hope is not lost. You can do one of two things: boil it, or get it wet, wring it out, and immediately zap it on high in the microwave for two minutes. (This works for sour sponges, as well.)
I’m thankful my mother left me so equipped with strategies for handling these nose-crinkling moments. I must also admit, however, that the very idea of sniffing out those sour smells, has gotten me thinking about writing. After all nothing, and I mean nothing, pulls the reader out of the story more than a sour story moment. Here, then, are four sour story moments that I am working diligently to wring out of my pieces before stepping into any elevators. Get your noses ready!
Off Kilter Rhythm and Rhyme: Nothing crinkles this reader’s nose faster than poorly executed rhyming text. The hard truth is that telling a story well in rhyme is hard. Not only must the rhyming be perfect, so must the meter. To shine, the rhymes must be unexpected and not forced and the sentence structure should never be inverted to make the rhyme work. Also, to be effective, the content of the poem or story must always come first.
Story Stoppers: This is a sour source I’ve been working hard to eliminate a lot lately. So, what’s a story stopper? A story stopper is anything that takes the reader out of the moment, that removes them from the world you have created in your story. It could be inconsistency of voice, or a plot moment so unbelievable that it makes the reader stop mid sentence. Perhaps it’s simply a word or phrase that feels out of character for a particular story’s world. It could also be a grammatical gaffe or an erroneous assumption or fact that makes the reader question the whole world you’ve created.
Too Much Description: In early elementary school my kids were taught to make their sentences pop by adding vivid adjectives and adverbs. This strategy works well for that age group. However, as adults, with full-grown vocabularies, our sentence popping strategy needs to shift from descriptive to active. Instead of “ big heavy rock” try “boulder” or “chunk”. Instead of “walk slowly” how about “amble” or “traipse” or “poke”. With well-chosen nouns and verbs, pieces for youngest readers will pop without being overly wordy.
Heavy-handed Message: In my opinion, a heavy-handed message zaps a story of all fun and naturalness. (I’m embarrassed, in fact, in hindsight, at how heavy-handed the earliest stories I submitted to magazines were.) All good stories, of course, by their very nature, have some sort of take-away but, when done well, the message is subtle and the story comes first.
Now it’s your turn. What sour wash cloth story moments would you add to this nose-crinkling list? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Happy Writing Monday, all!
Since this blog just celebrated its fifth year anniversary, I thought I’d celebrate by re-posting one my favorite entries from year one. That seven year old is now twelve! And like her, I still like to keep several horses in my writerly stable. How about you? Enjoy!
After school, instead of walking home, my seven-year-old has taken to riding — horseback riding, that is. She alternates between two imaginary horses — Cupcake and Sugar Pea. Her horses trot and canter. They gallop and run like the wind.
Actually, that’s not quite true. Cupcake runs like the wind. Sugar Pea is a little slower. She prefers to stop and smell the clover. Cupcake, by contrast, loves jumping over imaginary fences, the wind whipping at her mane. Their styles are so different, I never have to ask my daughter which horse she’s chosen. I just say, “Wow, Cupcake’s fast!” or “What does Sugar Pea think of the lilacs?”
I’m a lot like my daughter. I write best when I have at least two projects going at once. For example, right now I’m working on two very different picture books, several poems and a handful of blog posts. And, just as my daughter alternates ponies, based on mood, I alternate projects, based on interest, deadlines, or variety. Not only does this keep my writing fresh, it allows the pieces I’m not working on to rest, so that I can return to them with new eyes.
Keeping several horses in the stable, keeps me energized and happy as a writer. It also reduces writer’s block because I always have something in process. If one piece isn’t working, I simply take out another horse for the day. What about you? Are you a one-horse writer or do you prefer to keep several horses in your stable?